Football match to symbolically seal improved relations with Armenia

Days after the foreign ministers of Turkey and Armenia signed landmark diplomatic deals (photo), Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan will join his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to watch a symbolic football match in the Turkish city of Bursa Wednesda


Reuters - The presidents of Turkey and Armenia attend a World Cup soccer match on Wednesday courting popular support for an agreement to reopen their border and restore ties poisoned over a century of mutual hostility.

The agreement signed on Saturday could help stabilise the south Caucasus with its vulnerable energy corridor and ease Armenia's geographical isolation. But it is resisted by nationalists in both countries as well as Turkish ally and oil and gas producer Azerbaijan. Both parliaments must approve it.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called on soccer fans attending the match in the western town of Bursa to give no quarter to those who might plan a political show. Media said authorities would mount tight security to avoid any trouble.

Turkey and Armenia share a history of hostility stemming from the World War One mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks, a defining element of Armenian national identity. Armenia says it was genocide, a term Turkey rejects.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul visited Yerevan last year during the first leg of what has been called "soccer diplomacy".

Neither team in the qualifier has a chance of making it to the  World Cup finals, but the mere sight of the two presidents standing together would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan is under pressure from nationalists at home and, particularly, from diaspora Armenians not to treat with Ankara without a Turkish acknowledgement of genocide. Turkey for its part says thousands of Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed in partisan fighting.

Turkey's EU bid

Endorsement of the agreement, besides easing Armenia's economic plight, could only strengthen Turkey's EU membership bid and help along a gradual opening of the country's eastern borders extending to Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Turkey's European Union candidacy progress report was scheduled for release on Wednesday in Brussels.

Turkey says it wants Armenian concessions on the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to satisfy Azerbaijan. Turkey cut ties and shut its border with Armenia in 1993 over an uprising in Karabakh by ethnic Armenians who also seized a swathe of Azeri land around the territory.

Fighting ended with a ceasefire in 1994 after 30,000 were killed. Talks are under way over a final settlement.

Erdogan said on Tuesday there were still hindrances.

"We are trying to help solve the problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied Azeri lands... Regarding the approval of the protocols, our parliament will be considering developments on the problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan," Erdogan said in an address to his party.

A delegation of Azeri parliamentarians arrived in Ankara on Tuesday to hold talks with government officials, including Erdogan, on Wednesday.

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